Sunday, August 20, 2006

For Jes' Dad in response to a post on his blog:

I’ve always found it odd that a nation of immigrants should get upset about becoming a nation of immigrants. One shouldn’t be surprised that the fear factor can be quite politically useful and also lucrative.

As part of a class on Asian American studies I looked at how California has historically dealt with immigration from China and Japan. When the Japanese Americans were interred in the desert camps during WWII there were mass seizures and forced sales of land that had been owned by third generation decedents of immigrants from Japan. Typically we don’t think of anyone who is a third generation resident as an immigrant. Unfortunately, this is not true for non-whites, who often continue to be seen as cultural outsiders. Many of the huge agribusinesses in California today farm land taken in those seizures. Restitution has been long in coming and minimal with regard to the value of that land.

Fear creates economic opportunity because wealth can be generated through differences in desirability. The St. Louis real estate market has a long history of using race, class and gender to influence home value, generating wealth through trafficking on people’s xenophobia. You build a suburb, sell the homes, start deliberately moving in “undesirables”, thus devaluing the homes by changing their desirability, and then you build another suburb just a little further away from “those people”: how to profit on racism 101.

This works in terms of gender issues as individuals with “alternative sexualities” are often the vanguard of urban “reclamation” and the consequently problematic gentrification which ensues. This is true in my neighborhood where ten to fifteen years ago, perhaps longer, this process began. Pride parade marches up Grand and celebrates in Tower Grove Park because relatively disenfranchised people, who don’t necessarily have access to all the economic rewards of conformity, were able to get good property cheaply and build a neighborhood and a community that was/is safe.

Some of these same “economic” principles are in play in NAFTA and the hysteria over Latin American immigration reflects that. In simple numbers immigrants generate more wealth than they use in terms of services like education and health care (which we no longer fund anyway). Americans are also not having children and thus without mass immigration none of the driving forces of both growth (a healthy and educated workforce) and stability (social security in particular) can continue to function.

We don’t need a taller fence – we need tolerance. I admit that the term tolerance is problematic because it still partakes in a power hierarchy where the powerful group is gracious enough to tolerate the less powerful group. But that is the short term goal. If you have a better term I’d love to hear it.

On a related note, the mixing of immigration issues with fears over terrorism has further muddied this debate. It is simply not possible to prevent people from crossing into the country and it’s a fool’s errand to try given the size of the boarder. More importantly we need to realize that it is not possible to successfully fight terrorist ideology with force. You can’t bomb a population back to the Stone Age and then expect them to love and embrace the ideals of the people responsible for blowing off their limbs. Any force applied to an ideology reinforces that ideology. What you have to do is come up with a better story. Idealism is the only way to win the war on terror. It was enlightenment idealism, plain and simple, that succeeded in getting Protestants and Catholics in Europe to stop killing each other in the way that Shiites and Sunnis are now; that and the lebensraum of the Americas. Maybe living space is the key, because in semantic space the lebensraum is infinite.


Post a Comment

<< Home